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Sports >  WSU football

Washington State mailbag: Digging into the Cougars’ run-and-shoot offense after three games

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 10, 2020

It’s customary for the mailbag to fill up with a few more questions after a head-scratching loss than on the heels of a momentous win. That trend held true after Washington State’s 38-13 defeat at USC on Sunday.

In this week’s edition of the mailbag, we delve into head coach Nick Rolovich’s run-and-shoot offense, which will try to rebound from its lowest output of the season, touch on WSU’s bowl possibilities – they’re few and far between – and size up the 2021 recruiting class by position.

How much running should we expect the QB to do in the run-and-shoot offense?

- Brian C.

While it’s certainly a dimension of the offense, we’ve learned it’s not the first or second choice, given WSU’s splits through the first three games of the 2020 season. Of the team’s 195 total plays against Oregon State, Oregon and USC, 111, or 56%, have been passes, while another 53, or 27%, have been rushing plays from running backs or Travell Harris. Meanwhile, there have been just 27 QB runs, accounting for 13% of the total plays.

Below, I broke down those same splits for Hawaii in 2018 and 2019 – the years Rolovich used the run-and-shoot in Honolulu.

2019 (1,056 total plays): 635 passes (60%), 267 RB/WR rushes (25%), 141 QB rushes (13%).

2018 (963 total plays): 545 passes (56%), 261 RB/WR rushes (27%), 157 QB rushes (16%).

Personally, I’ve thought WSU quarterback Jayden de Laura has passed up on a few opportunities to use his legs, especially in the past two games, but on the flip side it’s also important he doesn’t get in the habit of becoming a “running quarterback” and WSU’s numbers compare to Hawaii’s the past two years. I don’t expect they’ll change much over the next two games, but let’s see what the splits look like after (one can hope) a full 12- or 13-game slate in 2021.

How many wins do the Cougs need to qualify for a bowl game? Is a bowl game something that is even being considered for WSU?

- @VengenceofB

Because the Pac-12 strangely (and senselessly, if you ask me) decided teams below .500 couldn’t qualify for a bowl game, the 1-2 Cougars would need to win out in order to place themselves in the postseason conversation.

Even at 3-2, though, they wouldn’t have a convincing argument considering there are only four bowl destinations for Pac-12 teams at this point, and it’s easy to see that number falling again in the next few weeks. The Redbox Bowl, Sun Bowl, Holiday Bowl and LA Bowl have all pulled out already, leaving the recently added Armed Forces Bowl, Independent Bowl and Alamo Bowl. The Pac-12 also gets an automatic bid to the NY6, so expect the conference champion to play in the Fiesta Bowl.

As of now, Colorado (4-0), USC (3-0) and Washington (3-1) are guaranteed bowl slots, given none of the three can finish below .500 with two games remaining. Since Washington’s game against Oregon was scrapped this weekend because of the Huskies’ COVID-19 issues, the Ducks remain at 3-2 .

Below those four, there are still two other Pac-12 teams – UCLA (3-2) and Stanford (2-2) – that are theoretically in a better position to nab the fourth bowl berth. The Bruins and Cardinal would only have to go 1-1 to reach at least .500 and Oregon State (2-3) would have a better winning percentage than WSU if it wins its final two games.

Since the conference added one more bowl affiliation within the past two weeks, it’s not impossible another would fall in its lap, but I’m more inclined to think the Pac-12 will lose more bowls rather than gain them, given the country’s current tends.

Beating Cal on Saturday would keep the Cougars in conversation, mathematically speaking, but I expect WSU’s bowl streak will officially end at five years. Though this year shouldn’t really count, should it?

How many quarterbacks do you think will play in the next game?

Rereading the article about Rolo from the beginning of the year, how many wide receivers do you think will be back next year? Seems like lots and lots of reps will make this offense exponentially better.

- Jennifer D.

Given WSU’s bizarre recent history with Cal, it’s probably foolish of me to think the Cougars will play a relatively clean offensive game, score 30 points for the first time since 2016 and ride de Laura to the finish line at Martin Stadium.

But none of this counts anyway, so I might as well go out on a limb.

Cal’s defense has shown tremendous improvement since the first two games, when the Golden Bears gave up 65 combined points to UCLA and Oregon State. Stanford and Oregon managed 41 against Cal, so maybe Tim DeRuyter’s defense has figured out a thing or two, or maybe the Golden Bears caught an Oregon team still shocked from its loss to Oregon State, followed by a Stanford team that’s been as unpredictable as any in the conference .

Not that the Cougars are any more predictable after Sunday’s showing in Los Angeles. Still, I expect a more refined, more motivated WSU offense to take the field against Cal. As someone who’d never lost consecutive games as a starting QB until Sunday, I’m sure de Laura’s eager to put the USC loss in the rear-view mirror.

Regarding the wide receivers, one of them, Renard Bell, has indicated he’ll return in 2021, and the only other senior in the group, Calvin Jackson Jr., should be eligible for a medical redshirt in addition, not to mention the free year the NCAA is giving all fall/winter sport athletes. Provided he doesn’t transfer, I’d anticipate all four starters will return next season.

Based on past experiences, how many years on average does it take to install the FULL run-and-shoot offense?

- Jack G.

Rolovich answered a few different variations of this question during training camp and I ran it by a few proponents of the offense when I wrote a bigger, more comprehensive story on the run-and-shoot a few months back. Although nobody gave it a specific number, it obviously differs based on personnel. I’d have to think WSU players would have an easier time adopting the run-and-shoot with their Air Raid experience than a team running more traditional pro style concepts.

Here’s a Rolovich comment from October on the process of teaching the offense:

“You’re like, can we teach it in an offseason?” Rolovich said. “Obviously, June (Jones) did it in ’99, but once it’s taught then it kind of teaches itself. Like Travell in a year from now is going to be an assistant wide receiver coach, because he’s going to teach the freshmen in the routs on air, or in 7-on-7. Mitchell Quinn is going to be able to teach guys that are in the lineup, give them little tips.

“When you talk about throwing on their own, or 7-on-7 in the summer, they really are the coaches out there, and once they have an idea, I think they even take it as maybe a badge of honor because they are, I would say, fluent in it in a year or so and can really help the growth of the entire program.”

I posed that question to former Hawaii QB Bryant Moniz, who played for the Rainbow Warriors while Rolovich was an OC/QB coach under Jones from 2008-11.

“Definitely not my first season,” Moniz said. “I’d say by my second season, I felt I was confident in it. Knowing the reads and knowing the offense in and out. But the first season I was kind of thrown in the fire. We’ve got to learn it, we’ve got to go.”

De Laura comes in with previous knowledge of the offense, but I’d imagine the rest of the team will have a fairly comprehensive understanding of the run-and-shoot by the start of the 2021 season, considering they’ll have had two fall camps, one spring camp and the abbreviated 2020 season to learn its concepts and intricacies.

Which current seniors have a realistic shot at getting drafted in the 2021 NFL draft if they were to leave after this practice season?

- BD Giddens

This answer may be more depressing than my bowl response near the top of the mailbag. That’s also why I expect the vast majority of WSU seniors to take advantage of their free year and return next fall.

I’ll give you an answer nonetheless.

Of the 13 seniors on the roster, I have no qualms saying Oscar Draguicevich III is the best at his position, and I was a little surprised to find that eight punters were taken in the past three drafts. (I also can’t say I expected to be doing this type of research this week.) That number is higher than I thought it’d be, but still averages out to less than three per year. While Draguicevich has consistently been one of the better punters in his conference, he’d probably need to be one of the top five in the country to be in the conversation.

Besides Draguicevich , linebacker Jahad Woods may be the only other one with a remote – and I do mean remote – chance of being drafted. Most NFL teams will consider him undersized, at least in a traditional middle linebacker role, and WSU’s past 13 games have amounted to one giant defensive catastrophe, which won’t work in Woods’ favor.

If he did leave early, Woods would have to show out at an all-star game such as the Senior Bowl, then record solid speed/strength numbers at WSU’s pro day – if it happens this year – and/or the NFL scouting combine.

Long story short, I wouldn’t bank on WSU having a draft pick in 2021, but 2022 should be a more bountiful year for the Cougars, with at least three of four having a legitimate opportunity.

Based on commits to date, are we hitting most our needs? If not, what are the biggest gaps?

- Doug D.

The commit breakdown by position is:

Edge: 6

Wide receiver: 4

Safety: 2

Offensive line: 2

Quarterback: 1

Linebacker: 1

Defensive tackle: 1

Punter: 1

That leaves the Cougars without a commit at running back, cornerback and kicker. The latter isn’t a concern at the moment, especially now that Blake Mazza has two more year of eligibility remaining. While WSU could use a cornerback commit or two after losing Elisha Lloyd, the Cougars have five scholarship corners who’ll be eligible through at least 2022.

But it’s equally surprising and disconcerting Rolovich’s staff hasn’t reeled in a running back a few weeks before the early signing period. The fact they haven’t suggests they know at least Max Borghi or Deon McIntosh will be back in 2021. If they didn’t, and the Cougars ignored the position in the current recruiting cycle, the depth chart would consist of Jouvensly Bazile, Clay Markoff and converted linebacker Peni Naulu next season.

The Cougars always seem to face a shortage of interior defensive linemen – sometimes in numbers, other times in talent – but maybe one or two of the strong side defensive ends listed on the 247Sports.com will make a position change once they arrive in Pullman. Still, don’t be surprised if the Cougars bring in another interior player before the cycle ends.

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